“Fake News” Checking and Fake “News Checking”

You may have read that Google plans to include “Fact Checks” of its news search results, much as Facebook has taken to doing with its news feeds.  And like Facebook, Google is farming out the job to so-called “fact-checkers” including Politifact, Snopes and the Washington Post.

The left-leaning biases of these organizations is well documented, but let’s briefly review them.  Politifact is essentially forced run lengthier explanations to justify the site’s disparate treatment of Left and Right, and treated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton quite differently, despite consistent polling showing most voters found them both dishonest and untrustworthy.

Most recently, Politifact retracted a 2014 article that found Obama Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s claim that “we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out” of Syria to be “Mostly True.”  Politifact handed out that rating despite the fact that there were discrepancies in the accounting and some stockpile sites lacked even an agreement for inspection.   It turns out that the assurances of Democrat politicians and global bureaucrats are assertions, not facts.

Snopes hires as fact-checkers alumni from various left-wing news sites like Raw Story.  And they are not very transparent when asked about their practices.  So it’s not surprising that the Snopes coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal contained only a few fact checks, almost all of which reviewed claims other people made about it, rather than Clinton’s numerous and obvious false statements about it.  Even The Guardian managed to fact-check Hillary.

As for the Washington Post, consider that the WaPo discontinued fact-checking during the first two years of the Obama administration, when Democrats also held large majorities in Congress.  Fact-checking resumed at roughly the same time a GOP Congress regained control in 2011.  The Washington Post sees itself as speaking truth to power…unless it’s untrammeled Democrat power.

Indeed, the Washington Post recently exercised no editorial control when Dana Milbank published a column based on claims about judicial filibusters less accurate than claims which previously had been awarded two and three Pinocchios by the WaPo fact-checker.  This approach is fact-checking for thee, not me.

None of this is surprising because so-called “fact-checking” is not so much about establishing facts but imposing a particular Truth.  And it is not about being restrained by their own Truth as it is about imposing it upon the Other.

While I do not agree with BuzzFeed’s EIC Ben Smith on everything, he is certainly correct to note (as Charlie Sykes has) that left-leaning Big Media is desperate to try to retain the “gatekeeping” power they enjoyed in the pre-internet age.  They, with the help of complaining left-wingers, have managed to cajole some of the biggest players in the internet media cartel into helping them.

I suspect that trying to impose authority rather than earning it will merely perpetuate the cycle of distrust that has already brought the media to new lows.

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Gorsuch Will Live. Norm Will Die.

For months, there’s been plenty of talk about candidate and Pres. Trump destroying various political and cultural norms.  Fair enough.  Most of this talk, however, comes from Democrats (or the Left broadly), who are in the process of upending a political norm themselves.

The nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court was favorably voted out of the Senate Judiciary Cmte yesterday on a party-line vote.  It seems likely that the Democrats will filibuster his nomination when it reaches the Senate floor, which in turn will likely cause Senate Republicans to change the rules to eliminate the filibuster for SCOTUS nominations and to confirm Gorsuch by majority vote.

The GOP will be entirely justified in changing the rule.  Gorsuch is eminently qualified for the position.  No credible complaint has been lodged against his ethics.  His record is overwhelmingly in the majority of the panels on which he has served for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.  His opinions are generally well-founded and lively in language.

In contrast, the Democrats’ opposition has been an incoherent mess.  Much of it has been an improper, results-oriented attack on his decisions, continuing the losing claim of Hillary Clinton’s campaign that courts should decide cases based on identity politics.

OTOH, when they aren’t painting him as an extremist, they’re conceding he’s really pretty mainstream, but cannot be confirmed after the way the GOP refused to hold hearings on Pres. Obama’s election-year SCOTUS nomination of Merrick Garland (an approach previously endorsed by Dems like Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer).

Further, Dems are supposedly alarmed that Gorsuch might reconsider precedents like Chevron v. NRDC, or even Roe v. Wade, which Democrats have taken to calling a “super-precedent” (a term as imaginary as a unicorn).  But they are also alarmed that he would be unwilling to reconsider precedents they don’t like, such as Citizens United v. FEC.  Again, a completely political, results-oriented approach that itself departs from the historic norm for judicial nominations.

Ending the filibuster for SCOTUS picks is the next step after Senate Democrats ended the filibuster for judicial nominations to lower courts.  Republicans had blocked a number of Pres. Obama’s judicial nominees, but it must be noted that this was in part a response to the Democrats’ filibuster of prior GOP nominees like Miguel Estrada, a highly-qualified  jurist blocked more than once for no other reason than Dems’ fear he eventually would be appointed to the SCOTUS.

The GOP was also responding to the attempted filibuster of Samuel Alito’s SCOTUS confirmation.  While unsuccessful, the Alito filibuster was supported by Senate Democratic leadership and by then-Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John Kerry, to name a few.

Indeed, it could be said the Democrats have been attacking the norms for judicial nominations since at least the Reagan-era nomination of Robert Bork, an episode so egregious that the man’s name became a verb signifying a political smear.  Even after the Borking, Republicans attempted to adhere to the traditional norm of supporting well-qualified SCOTUS nominees despite philosophical disagreements, as can be seen by the near-unanimous vote for Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  The GOP got nothing for their consistency.

In this sense, the GOP tried to maintain the norm of confirming well-qualified jurists; the Dems are trying to destroy the remnant of that norm after decades of effort.

And in a way, none of this should surprise anyone much, as Democrats are by nature not particularly fond of norms  — at least not those they are establishing and imposing.  Progressivism is at its heart a philosophy that is not fond of Constitutional norms, as Woodrow Wilson made plain before and during his Presidency.  And in general, they are not disposed to ask why a fence exists before removing it.

Of course, some societal norms are worth junking.  Jim Crow is one obvious example, though progressive Democrats will crow much more about their role in ending it than their prior interest in eugenics (some of which still turns up in the unguarded thoughts of abortion advocates).  Fewer are interested in examining less obvious examples.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that in politics, people’s concern about norms is usually as situational as their position on any other question.  It would be far better if those purporting to be concerned about norms were willing to have an adult conversation about why certain fences might exist, regardless of which partisan tribe holds a temporary majority.  But that norm appears to have been knocked down long ago.

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Resist the Trump Narratives

No, this is not about Russia.  It started out as a few further thoughts on Pres. Trump’s big speech and the reactions to it.  But as I realized those reactions are mostly a function of popular narratives about Trump, it became more interesting to write about narratives — Trump’s narratives in this case.

If you’re reading a political blog, I probably don’t have to tell you what a narrative is.  But if you’re young enough, you may not know the “narrative” is a concept imported from lit crit in the early oughts by some of the old school blogosphere to describe the overall framing political actors (including the media) build around the events of our times, generally to influence our perception of these events.

You are also aware that Trump’s opponents and harshest critics already have a narrative about his ascension and presidency that serves for the baseline of their continued opposition and criticism.  Conversely, Trump’s supporters — and some of the anti-anti-Trump right — have a counter-narrative that serves as their baseline.

Those trying to judge Trump’s rise and his governance on an issue-by-issue basis will receive static from both factions.  That static often plays out in a popular genre of sub-narrative titled “This is How You Got Trump.”

These narratives — including “This is How You Got Trump” — leave out a lot of fairly recent history.

We have quickly forgotten that 2016 involved the Democrats trying to retain control of the presidency for a “third term,” a feat accomplished precisely once (in 1988) since the enactment of the 22nd Amendment.

We tend to gloss over the fact that real GDP increased 1.6 percent in 2016, far below growth in 1988 and below what will generally keep a party in control of the White House. We might note in passing our foreign policy woes, but forget they’re much worse than they were in 1988, when the Reagan administration had put into place the polices that would win the Cold War.

In short, the fundamentals pointed to a classic “change” election.  Even the New York Times figured this out before the election.  And we may remember it from time to time, but it’s not part of either of the clashing Trump narratives.

We were surprised by Trump’s strength in the Rust Belt and upper Midwest; we thought much less about Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin having unified GOP governments headed into the election.  Hillary Clinton also missed that memo, despite the fact that the Democratic Party has been conceding working-class white voters since her husband first won the presidency.

Hillary decided to run as the candidate of the Obama coalition, but she was not the nation’s first black President, and not nearly as natural a campaigner.  She should have considered she might perform more like John F. Kerry in key Midwestern battlegrounds and campaigned accordingly.

Hillary’s incompetence on that point was merely the sprinkles — albeit necessary sprinkles — on her cupcake of failure.  She carried more negative baggage than any other major-party candidate in modern history, excepting Trump on some items.  But Trump, even with his myriad flaws, wasn’t under FBI investigation.

All of this was much-discussed in the immediate aftermath of 2016’s surprise outcome.  And none of it is to discount Trump’s accomplishments, his appeal to the white working class, his dogged campaigning in key states down the stretch when even his campaign doubted his chances, and so on.

But most of it does not find its way into the competing narratives about Trump, which now imagine him to be either Gozer the Destructor who will lay waste to the countryside or the Populist Colossus remaking the GOP and forever altering the trajectory of American politics.  Either one of those scenarios could come to pass, but he’s also the guy who was outpolled by most conventional GOP Senate candidates and the average GOP House candidate.

Of course, Trump does wield a great deal of power and influence as President, so the reactions are not irrational.  But even a Pres. Trump is unlikely to prove to be the Destructor or the Colossus.  Our reactions are exaggerated and distorted by our tendency to build narratives.

People subscribing to one narrative or the other would do well to acknowledge there are some elements of truth in both, and that there is much excluded from both.

I would urge people to abandon their reliance on narratives, but this would be as silly as people urging the abandonment of religion, or nationalism, or any number of things that are part of the human experience.  It would be profoundly unconservative to ignore human nature in that way.

People love telling and hearing stories.  We love it in politics as an agent of influence.  We love it in media because we understand our attraction to drama.  We love it in life because stories help us understand and organize a complex and often chaotic world.

Indeed, the story of Trump disturbs people in no small part because it challenged or seemingly disproved the narratives that many relied upon to organize and explain their politics and their world.  Conversely, those happiest with Trump’s victory are happy their narratives were confirmed, even if our complex and chaotic world might suggest those narratives are as fragile as those supposedly disproven.

There’s no chance people will abandon their love of narratives, particularly when confronted with the story of the reality TV star who becomes President.  But we can strive to remember that even compelling narratives almost inherently leave out many messy complications in favor of confirming our priors.

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